It's no longer a question of why I am a widoe. I understand that now. It’s why I spell widoe differently.
Peter was alone in a hospital bed, helpless to death, when his blood clotted in his lungs. He had become ill with flu two weeks earlier. For years I believed he wasn’t supposed to die. When death took over, Peter was a fifty-year-old entrepreneur who played ragtime rhythms on his baby grand like he played rugby—with a charismatic and divine playfulness. I didn’t figure that death was on Peter’s team or in his band. Like a fevered dog, gnawing a bone, seeking to find some measure of understanding within the marrow, I held onto the belief that Peter died because of medical mistakes. Then one day I woke up saying, of course he died. He was supposed to. An angel hadn’t come whispering answers to me, and yet, there I was, saying he was supposed to die because he did.
When I was allowed into the hospital room to be with Peter, there was no breath from his chest. His gown was open, his mouth agape. I stopped breathing, too. It felt like my heart was a cage full of birds trying to fly without space enough even to flap their wings. Wait, don’t leave me—I can’t do this without you, I screamed from inside the cage. The “this” was the everything we were doing safely as a couple—raising boys, building a home from a hundred-year-old church, scraping by sometimes, living large others, lots of yummy loving in-between. Let me die, too, I screamed in my head. The hospital room remained silent.
A widow? Peter’s widow? Take me, too. Take my breath. I don’t want to be a widow. I’m a young woman, his girl, his lover, mother of our boys. Until then, I was held safely in the illusion that Peter’s arms were wrapped warmly around me, that he could protect me from any pain I might feel. At least be there to comfort me through it. I believed he would never leave me. I felt like he completed me. Welcome to the past tense, sharp voices started screaming from the sterile hospital walls. You were a girl; you’re a widow now.
Then give me a widow’s story I know. Someone who has done this before me, someone who will do it with me. Whistler’s mother appeared, widow or not, in a chair. Frozen in hopelessness. I am not that tired, old woman. Jacqueline Kennedy. A pillbox hat, streaked mascara, bloodied suit. Not me. I’m not famous or glamorous or rich. I turned thirty-six two months ago; it’s the end of a millennium. We’re raising a crop of boys together: Colby, in college already; Anton, a redheaded teen; and Zavier, only three. Our love child, we called him. And baby makes four, whispers the unknown son in my womb, who surprises me as a purple dot on a pink wand, three weeks after his father had slipped away in the middle of the night.
Yoko Ono, a widow. A rock star, artist, not me. Not a girl, not safe, too much room, too fast. Wait. Wives are widows. I can’t be a widow. I was not Peter’s wife. I wore off-white lace and he wore vintage tails on our wedding day, standing under gothic-arched stained glass, in the sanctuary of our churchhouse, but I was not his wife. Two hundred of our friends crowded the creaky nave floor to witness our "union." It was nine years into our love affair, when we four—Peter, Annie, Colby and Anton—proclaimed ourselves a family. Our wedding celebration was as custom-designed as our reconstructed house. God was shining upon us in our churchhouse of love, we believed, just not dressed in robes demanding paperwork or prayers.
I loved Peter to the bone, right down to his sweet marrow in-between, but I didn’t want to be his wife. I was perfectly content where I was nestled, somewhere in-between love of his life and girl who spins his world. I knew they were just names from a language that doesn’t adequately define love. His wife, his girlfriend, his mistress, his lover, his partner—they were all his “someone.” I wanted a new language to define our merger of skin, blood and checkbooks. I didn’t call Peter my husband. When I introduced him I simply said, this is Peter. It wasn’t hard to see by the way his electric-blue eyes charged me that he was a bulb of my light. Meet AnnMarie, he’d say, kind of low-down and beaming, his hand barely touching the tip of my tailbone, at the valley of my moon.
In the language of post-life however, there is no box to check for being his “someone.” Widow comes from dowager, says my lawyer. It wasn’t long ago that a woman couldn’t own property unless she inherited it at her husband’s death. Of course, she was expected to turn it over to her next husband, in her next marriage. A widow was a dowager with a dowry, he adds. You know, land, a house, a chest at the foot of the bed. At least you’ve got a home, albeit a church. That old place has always reminded me of a hull in a big wooden ship. How is the old church, anyway?
Why are we still wearing the archaic veils of a dowager when widows can own homes without death as the co-signer, I ask. It’s the law, he says, it’s the way widow is written. Next >
photo by Lorna Booker
AnnMarie Ginella became a widow in 1997, at the age of thirty-six. At the time, she was the mother of three sons, with a surprise son, on the way. Three years into her widowhood, she returned to school for a M.A. in Creative Writing.
In 2005, AnnMarie founded WidowSpeak, a non-profit corporation with a literary and humanitarian mission. WidowSpeak publishes stories and news about widows and the humanitarian projects supporting them. Additionally, WidowSpeak features widows in literature, music, art and photography. Widows in the Hood is the philanthropic arm of WidowSpeak which pairs widows of resources with widows in need, creating global neighborhoods of widows.
AnnMarie has served on the Board of Directors for repertory theatres, environmental education, athletic field building and online publishing. AnnMarie has designed programs and written grants for biodynamic farming apprenticeships, riparian habitats, school gardens and wetland restoration. AnnMarie has B.A. in French Literature. Before her widowhood, she was a high school teacher where she taught Literature, World History and French.